In the early 1980s, a new concept entered managerial discourse: Total
Quality Management (TQM). Later called "Total Quality" (TQ),
TQM was heralded by governments, major corporations and the business
media as the most effective and elegant way out of the economic crisis
and into the global market. It should be noted, however, that the
preoccupation with quality is by no means new. In a 1956 article,
Feigenbaum describes the new stakes confronting corporate managers in
the early 1960s as follows: "Customers - both industrial and
consumer - have been increasing their quality requirements very sharply
in recent years. This tendency is likely to be greatly amplified by the
intense competition that seems inevitable in the near future"
(Feigenbaum, 1956: 93). In the 1980s, TQM became a product in itself,
nearly a billion-dollar industry (Harari, 1993b).
Like many fashionable concepts, TQM has spawned abundant literature
aimed principally at managers confronted with problems of implementation
(Reed et al., 1996). Only recently has there been a more indepth
analysis of the total quality movement, with several academics
publishing the results of theoretical and empirical research. For
instance, an entire issue of The Academy of Management Review (19(3),
July 1994) was devoted to studies of this nature. TQM also earned its
share of detractors who accused it of being merely a fad. Several
authors pointed out that while total quality approaches have met with
considerable success, their failures, though less publicized, have been
even greater (Ahire, 1996; Dreyfuss, 1988; Hammonds, 1991; Krishnan et
al., 1993; Roberts and Corcoran-Nantes, 1995; Schaffer, 1993; Sherwood
and Hoylman, 1993; Spitzer, 1993). Others questioned TQM's
conceptual soundness, its applicability and its ideological basis
(Schaffer and Thomson, 1992; Dean and Bowen, 1994; Hill, 1995; Webb,
1995; Steingard and Fitzgibbons, 1993; Tuckman, 1995; Wilkinson et al.,
Given the existence of diverse discourse on and against TQM, we
believe that a literature review and a classification of this literature
may be of value to both academics and practitioners who seek to better
understand the value and limitations of TQM. The purpose of this article
is to propose a classification of different schools of thought and
critiques in quality management, to show the relationship between each
of them and how they have engendered what is now called total quality.
Table 1 shows excerpts of the schools of thought classification and
Table 2 shows excerpts of the critique classification.
We believe that some of the harshest critiques of TQM originate in
the nature of the evolution of the field of quality management, which is
marked by the presence of several shifts. Classification helped us
develop a theoretical analysis of the historical and discursive
dimensions that we believe are being neglected. We think that our
analysis may cast the current debate among believers, nonbelievers, and
skeptics in a different light.
TWO SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT IN QUALITY MANAGEMENT
Several authors have described the confusion created by the existence
of distinct definitions of, and perspectives on, quality management
(Chatterjee and Yilmaz, 1993; Dean and Bowen, 1994; Gehani, 1993;
Krishnan et al., 1993; Sitkin et al., 1994; Wilkinson and Willmott,
1995). For example, Dean and Bowen concluded that "Despite
thousands of articles in the business and trade press, total quality
remains a hazy, ambiguous concept. The difference among frameworks
proposed by writers such as Deming, Juran and Crosby have no doubt
contributed to this confusion" (1994: 394). In our view, however,
the confusion is due not only to differences in approach, but also to
the lack of interest shown by academics. To our knowledge, the attempts
at differentiating schools of thought in the literature are limited to a
distinction between "hard" and "soft" approaches.
The former are associated with the systematic control of work using
statistical tools, while the latter emphasize qualitative and human
aspects (Hill, 1995; McArdle et al., 1995; Warnotte, 1992).
It is always difficult to group and label approaches, particularly
when they do not have well established foundations in management theory.
Unfortunately, this is the case for most TQM approaches (Dean and Bowen,
1994). We nevertheless believe that it is important to try. Thus, we
have borrowed the categories proposed by Barley and Kunda (1992) to
chart the evolution of American managerial discourse. According to these
authors, the managerial discourse consists of alternating waves of
normative and rational rhetoric and forms of control. Rational control
is characteristic of theories such as scientific management and systems
rationalism, according to which productivity stems from expertise,
careful work design, and coherent support systems. It presumes that
employees are "calculative actors with instrumental orientation to
work" and "understand the advantages of an efficient system or
. . . [are] powerless to resist a well-designed structure" (1992:
384). Under this assumption, control is achieved by manipulating
systems, and if the systems are adequate, compliance is assured. On the
other hand, normative control (associated, for instance, with welfare
capitalism in the 1930s and 1940s, and the more recent trend of
organizational culture) assumes that the organization is "a locus
of shared values and moral involvement" where "cohesion and
loyalty . . . [are] the ultimate source of productivity. . . . Control
therefore rested on shaping workers' identities, emotions,
attitudes, and beliefs" (1992: 384). Barley and Kunda associate TQM
with the more recent normative wave of organizational culture. However,
when one considers the evolution of the quality management movement, it
appears that both forms of control are present in the quality management
literature. In fact, we argue that these forms of control constitute a
prominent difference between the schools of thought. The schools of
thought we refer to as rational and normative both share a common goal:
customer satisfaction. However, each school proposes a different means
to achieve this goal.
We must point out that the classification we propose is not the
result of a systematic content analysis of the literature on TQM.
Rather, it is inferred from an extensive (if not exhaustive) literature
review. Quotes from the main authors associated with the two schools of
thought are presented in Table 1.
The Rational School
The guiding principle of the rational school is the importance of
acting at the level of systems and processes and, contrary to the
normative school, not blaming poor quality on individual attitudes. This
is the broadest, best documented, and oldest school of thought in
quality management. Shewhart (1931) was one of the first to develop
statistical tools allowing managers to make more enlightened decisions
regarding not only product quality, but also the need to intervene in a
given process during manufacturing. Statistical process control
represented an important break with the traditional view of quality
control, which until then had been limited to product inspection
(Garvin, 1988). Even today, the rational school views statistical tools
as a fundamental ingredient of quality management in a context of
large-scale production using standardized components. In the 1950s,
however, Deming - another statistician - argued that statistical tools
are inadequate if managers use them improperly or impractically (for
instance, by looking for a culprit), or when they foster managerial
practices that inhibit workers from applying information acquired from
statistics to improving processes. Indeed, Deming recognized that data
on product quality and process stability are useless if management does
not subsequently act to rectify the situation or if management's
actions are limited to laying blame and exhorting improvement (Deming,
1982, 1986). Deming, thus, developed a set of "lines of
conduct" for managers, which have come to be known as
"Deming's 14 points."(1) Deming's message,
introduced in Japan, was subsequently extended by Juran (1951), who also
advocated changes in management practices. This was followed by the
publication of Feigenbaum's Total Quality Control, which proposed
to broaden quality management to include the functions of product design
and maintenance (Feingenbaum, 1961). The introduction of the concept of
"Total Quality Control" (TQC) represented a turning point in
quality management because it attributed the responsibility for finished
product quality to a larger number of key individuals. Ultimately,
responsibility was spread over the entire company - "Company-Wide
Quality Control" - and involved not only functions directly related
to product creation but also all company services involved in supplying
production support and resources. Within this framework, it is no longer
enough to manage the quality of finished and unfinished products, but
attention must also be paid to the quality of raw materials, worker
training, equipment, etc. (Ishikawa, 1985).
To summarize, the rational school presupposes that individuals want
to do a good job. If they do not, the reasons are twofold: they may be
hindered by the obligation to conform to methods prevailing in their
workplace, or they may not possess the necessary information to
manufacture good products. Within this framework, any attempt at
improving quality can only succeed by means of a systematic, critical
examination of existing management systems and by developing tools to
gather and analyze data about the quality produced.
The Normative School
The normative school stresses the individual responsibility of
employees (whether line workers or managers) with regard to quality and
the need to correct behavioral flaws. This school emerged in the 1960s
with Crosby's "zero-defect" theory, which argues that
there is only one acceptable level of quality (zero-defect), that the
only way to ensure quality is "to do it right the first the
time," and that the only true measure of quality is the price of
nonconformance resulting from a lack of prevention. This is what led him
to claim that Quality Is Free (the title of his best known book; Crosby,
1979), as well as to suggest that the solution to nonconformance
consisted of involving individuals and refusing to accept that "to
err is human" (Crosby, 1964).
In 1974, in the third edition of the Quality Control Handbook, Juran
(a rationalist) argued that Crosby's perspective was based on
spectacular examples in which human error was the cause of a catastrophe
and that these examples were not representative of the real problem of
poor quality encountered by managers. In his view, this
"inattention" school was no more than a flash in the pan, even
though he recognized that many company executives could find it quite
attractive (Juran, 1974). The unfolding of events, however, would prove
him wrong. The 1980s saw the normative school grow in importance with
the push toward excellence (Peters and Waterman, 1982), associated with
quality and "zero-defect," as well as with the rise of
economic liberalism with its emphasis on individual responsibility.
With the rise of the concept of excellence and its pairing with
quality management, the 1980s witnessed a distortion of the original TQC
concept (in which it is "control," not quality, which is
total(2)), which was transformed into TQM (Total Quality Management),
then often simply reduced to total quality. It appears to have been by
an implicit and gradual consensus that total quality took root, even
though precise definitions of the term are rare and divergent (for
examples of definitions of total quality, see Dean and Bowen (1994),
Ebel (1991), and Kelada (1996)). Many who claim to be talking about
total quality trace their authority to Deming and Juran, two of the best
known authors in the area of quality management. To our knowledge,
however, these authors have never used the expression total quality,
even in their recent works. For example, when asked about the future of
TQM, Deming replied "there is no such thing. It is a buzzword. I
have never used the term, as it carries no meaning" (Romano, 1994:
In summary, the normative school's basic hypothesis is that poor
quality can largely be attributed to worker negligence and to
companywide carelessness. In this context, the objective is to develop
and disseminate a flawless argument to illustrate the role played by the
individual in attaining quality (with management setting an example) and
to stress economic rationality and the performance obligation facing
companies. By means of repeated messages and appropriate incentives, the
goal is to allow for the integration and actualization of this normative
vision in daily behavior.
THREE CRITICAL STREAMS
TQM is quite recent, and critiques have begun to appear only in the
last five years or so. We grouped the critiques into three main streams
according to the subject under discussion. Our categorization was based
on an extensive but not exhaustive review of the literature. Some
believe that the approaches undertaken have not yielded striking
improvements and question the ability of TQM to generate the promised
results: the pragmatic critique Certain authors have examined the
approaches themselves from a conceptual perspective and offer a critique
of their content: the theoretical critique There are those who contest
the social and political premises underlying TQM and raise questions
about its relevance: the ideological critique. The main arguments of
each critical stream are shown in Table 2.
The Pragmatic Critique: Does TQM work?
The pragmatic critique (e.g., Schaffer and Thomson, 1992; Harari,
1993a, 1993b) originated from two main groups: quality
"specialists" who critique the approaches put forward by their
colleagues (and sometimes competitors), and executives and workers who
failed at implementing these approaches.
Juran's (1974) critique of Crosby's vision was presented
above, yet the opposite argument also exists. For example, rationalists
are often accused of proposing an idealist vision which over-emphasizes
processes to the detriment of results. As such, some have argued that
companies should adopt timely approaches intended to produce short-term
results which have a visible impact on company profitability (Schaffer
and Thomson, 1992). These kinds of approaches clearly identify causal
links between actions and results, thereby contributing to an ongoing
learning process based [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED] on past
experience. This would be impossible with long-term approaches aimed at
improving systems since too many variables influence the results.
Rationalist approaches are also criticized for confusing ends and means,
allowing managers to hide behind an anticipated long-term performance
improvement so as to avoid having to explain difficulties encountered
and the absence of tangible results (Schaffer and Thomson, 1992).
Moreover, data concerning alleged TQM failure rates and the
description of particular cases have given rise to a new debate: did the
companies which experienced failure really adopt a TQM approach?
According to some observers, businesses which met with success were
those which had adopted a "true" TQM approach, while those who
experienced failure had either not adopted TQM or had poorly implemented
it (Ahire, 1996; Becker, 1993). In response to this claim, others
maintain that the "true" TQM is that which is described as
such by managers and not what it is supposed to be in theory (Harari,
Pragmatic critiques can also be found in the informal comments made
by managers and workers who have unsuccessfully attempted to implement
TQM. Criticism sometimes surfaces in the distortion of TQM vocabulary
and associated concepts: TQM becomes the "total quality myth"
(Bemowski, 1995); QWL - quality of working life - is rendered as
"quietly whipping labour" (Landen and Landen, 1990). Other
expressions from the total quality discourse have been discredited and
forcibly eliminated (Landen and Landen, 1990; Tuckman, 1995). For
example, the term quality circles has often been replaced by continuous
improvement work-teams or other similar expressions. As consultants and
teachers, we often hear disillusioned and cynical remarks concerning the
official quality discourse. Although this is only anecdotal evidence,
such remarks are so frequently and spontaneously expressed that we feel
compelled to include them as informal manifestations of pragmatic
critiques. The following examples are drawn from our experience or
provided by research and practitioner colleagues(4): "invited
suggestions are heeded only when they reflect the desires of
management," "management itself is not able to implement its
own principles," "quality is only important to the extent that
production quotas and delivery deadlines have been met," and
"quality is something that is done only between ten and eleven
o'clock, Thursday morning." During a training session on
statistical process control, we even heard one of the participants say
"don't worry, here we make sure that the control charts always
say what they are supposed to say." But the type of remark we most
often heard is "there was a lot of talk about total quality for a
few months, then it just disappeared into thin air...."
The failures of TQM (and the disillusionment of the workforce) are
often attributed to a lack of top management commitment, a lack of rigor
during implementation (which leads to a failure to develop a
quality-oriented culture), or a lack of understanding of the
"real" nature of TQM (Ahire, 1996; Becker, 1993). However,
contrary to the pragmatic critique, the two following critical streams
question the very nature of the proposed change as well as its
The Theoretical Critique: Is TQM scientifically sound?
This critical stream (e.g., Dean and Bowen, 1994; Hill, 1995; Kerfoot
and Knights, 1995; Roberts and Corcoran-Nantes, 1995) encompasses a wide
variety of works on TQM as an approach to change, the contents of which
are examined from a conceptual perspective. Generally speaking, they
criticize TQM advocates because of the purely prescriptive nature of the
approaches they propose, their lack of nuance with respect to
difficulties in the implementation of change, and the absence of any
reference to management theory. Some researchers attempt to compensate
for the latter failing by establishing links between TQM and current
knowledge about organizational management. For example, Dean and Bowen
(1994) claim that total quality prescriptions regarding worker
leadership, training, and participation could be corroborated by human
resources management theory. Furthermore, Spencer (1994) proposes that
TQM, generally associated with an organic management model, could in
some way be brought closer to the mechanistic model and the cultural
While the TQM literature can find a degree of support in management
theory, several authors argue that it has important limitation as well.
For example, the TQM literature has been criticized for its failure to
take into account the presence of different interest groups within the
organization, social issues, and the problem of industrial relations
(Hill, 1995; Roberts and Corcoran-Nantes, 1995; Wilkinson et al., 1991).
According to Hill,
"Resistance to improvement is properly highlighted, but its
nature and extent are not understood and the proposed solutions are too
restricted.... the mechanisms required to persuade people to "buy
into" quality management are limited to leadership from the top,
systematic education and training, learning the benefits by doing and
recognition for achievements. The thrust of these prescriptions is that
top managers should win hearts and minds without compulsion" (1995:
Moreover, Dean and Bowen (1994) consider that total quality places
too much emphasis on the formal analysis of information, which is
inconsistent with research demonstrating the importance of maintaining a
certain degree of informality and ambiguity in organizational contexts
characterized by uncertainty and political issues. Dean and Bowen also
argue that total quality imposes a strategic formulation that centers
exclusively on client expectations, without taking into account
considerable literature on strategy that recommends that consideration
of an organization's strengths and weaknesses and its
competitiveness is just as important as that of the market needs.
The critiques above raise the issue of the universality of TQM's
concepts. The total quality discourse typically suggests, or explicitly
claims, that the implementation of TQM is both desirable and feasible in
any and all public or private services or industrial organizations.
Organizational contingencies are either completely forgotten or viewed
as having little importance (Dean and Bowen, 1994; Reed et al., 1996).
Sitkin et al. (1994) go even further to suggest that this
"overselling" of TQM might be the cause of many of the
There has also been some interest in the psychological dimension of
the total quality discourse. An American study conducted at AT&T
(Lader, 1988) shows that for Americans "quality" is an
emotionally charged concept related to personal feelings of success and
failure, serf-esteem, and the fulfillment of parental expectations,
which are subsequently transferred to authority figures. This study
shows that expressions such as "do it right the first time"
and "zero-defect" (associated with the normative school) are
perceived negatively, and the terms "control" and
"total" are spontaneously associated with inflexibility and
totalitarianism, leading to the conclusion that the expression
"total quality control," notwithstanding its underlying good
intentions, may be a very poor choice of words. The study also suggests
that the archetypes of quality are represented in films like Rocky and
Star Wars, in which the final result of attaining an ideal is less
important than perseverance and the struggle against adversity, without
which there can be no real success. The presence of these archetypes
would explain why the concept of continuous improvement is much better
received by workers, because it focuses on the struggle more that on an
ideal result. With certain nuances, this conclusion has been supported
by a second study (Bemowski, 1993).
While the studies above suggest the existence of a transfer between
management-defined quality improvement objectives and individual
aspirations, they do not directly question the relevance of such a
displacement. Other researchers, however, have looked into this matter.
Their arguments constitute what we call the ideological critique.
The Ideological Critique: Does TQM lie?
Contrary to the pragmatic and theoretical critiques, the ideological
critique (Aubert and de Gaulejac, 1991; Delbridge et al., 1992; du Gay
and Salaman, 1992; Kerfoot and Knights, 1995; Steingard and Fitzgibbons,
1993; Webb, 1995) does not focus on either the theoretical content or
the applicability of TQM approaches. Rather, it examines the social
consequences and political significance of the movement. The critique is
based on the observation of a considerable gap between TQM rhetoric and
the reality experienced by organizations implementing TQM (Webb, 1995;
Kerfoot and Knights, 1995). First, while TQM rhetoric advocates autonomy
and worker empowerment, the fact is that its implementation is generally
accompanied by an increase in control (Delbridge et al., 1992; Webb,
1995). Second, TQM is supposed to be a collective effort in pursuit of a
common cause. Yet the concept of an internal customer on which it is
often based inherently conveys the other side of any market relations:
exploitation based on power (Webb, 1995). Finally, TQM promotes worker
participation, their personal involvement in the organization's
success, and the possibility of improving their working conditions and
their chances for advancement by initiating a true
"meritocracy" (Webb, 1995). However, critics believe that TQM
implementation is often undertaken within the framework of massive
streamlining, accompanied by a flattening of hierarchical structures,
which reduce chances for advancement (Kerfoot and Knights, 1995; Roberts
and Corcoran-Nantes, 1995).
These divergences might be attributed to the fact that the total
quality discourse was rashly adopted by many organizations seeking to
keep up with trends and improve their public image. However, a much
harsher criticism argues that the total quality rhetoric is just a way
of gaining acceptance for changes which serve ends other than those it
purports to pursue, thus constituting a vocabulary of motives (Webb,
Some researchers have focused on the impacts of TQM approaches on
employee life. For example, Aubert and de Gaulejac (1901) conducted
in-depth studies of the harmful effects of approaches advocating
excellence, which fit in well with the culture of anxiety currently
prevailing in industrialized societies, but which frequently lead to
burnout. It is also argued (du Gay and Salaman, 1992; du Gay, 1906) that
in creating the cult of the customer and making everyone a supplier
responsible for customer satisfaction (which is a key principle of TQM),
the needs of the organization are superimposed on individual projects.
The financial difficulties experienced by companies are transferred onto
the shoulders of individuals. Employees are made to believe that, as
responsible suppliers and alert customers, they will become more
virtuous and more empowered individuals. In fostering an image of
omnipotence, perfection, and expansion, it is argued that corporate
growth is fueled by the self-actualizing capacities of employees, who
see progress as giving their lives a meaning which they cannot find
elsewhere. When the company fails, even partly, in its quest for
excellence, the result is either a collapse of the ideal image of self
(burnout) or a psychological withdrawal (reduction of involvement). In
internalizing the corporate culture and in perceiving themselves as
corporations whose success they must secure, employees are said to
endorse their own exploitation and willingly, even at times
enthusiastically, participate in what McArdle et al. (1995) have termed
"management by stress."
Empirical data show that TQM introduction increases the control over
workers, though it is supposed to reduce it (Delbridge et al., 1992;
Webb, 1995). It is argued that the obligation to be accountable to
internal customers introduces a neighborhood watch, which some express
as "the chain metaphor represents manacles as well as links"
(Tuckman, 1995: 58). Moreover, TQM techniques themselves, with their
insistence on the establishment of indicators of quality and control
charts that must be made visible (graphs are often displayed on the
walls of the workplace), always give managers access to
"scientific" data, easily considered irrefutable. According to
McArdle et al. (1995), the increase in control might be all the more
facilitated, given that it is justified by a rhetoric of the market and
competition, which play on the fear of job loss in order to eliminate
Some effort has been made to emphasize the political nature of the
total quality movement. Munro (1995) and Webb (1995) argue that within
organizations, TQM constitutes a new discursive space used by managers
in their own political struggles. For example, Webb concludes from a
case study that "Instead of the prescribed equal dialogue....
Marketing had emerged at the top as a result of the rhetoric of customer
responsiveness. It was able to use its direct contact with customers as
a legitimating device" (1995: 117). Other authors (Steingard and
Fitzgibbons, 1993; Tuckman, 1995) more interested in the sociopolitical
nature of organizations, view TQM as an element within a larger
hegemonic project which presents market relations as an ideal to be
overlaid onto social relations. Steingard and Fitzgibbons maintain that
the pursuit of this ideal leads employees to be "totally
managed" as parts of the "TQMachine." They write:
"this [TQM] organizational panacea for the twenty-first century
conceals a capitalist schema of alienation, dehumanization, and
totalitarianism" (1993: 31).
This political critique is not without its detractors, however, who
question the characterization of TQM as part of a Machiavellian plan for
worker exploitation (Kerfoot and Knights, 1995; Webb, 1995). They argue,
for example, that increases in the control of workers might be a
perverse effect of TQM rather than a hidden objective. Hill (1995) also
argues against the theory of indoctrination and maintains that
"people are not cultural dopes."
It is quite normal and very healthy that TQM should have proponents,
critics, and "impartial" observers, like any valid management
approach. It is only through the discussion of ideas that advances are
made in the social sciences. We believe, however, that the study of the
evolution within the field of quality management exhibits certain
characteristics which may provide a new understanding of the current
The presence within quality management of schools of thought which
differ fundamentally, but which are not recognized as such, leads to
confusion and contradictions within the discourse on quality. Several
authors and consultants have attempted to integrate the views of the
rational school with those of the normative school in order to present
what they see as a "more complete" approach. It is for this
reason that certain approaches simultaneously advocate both continuous
improvement and "do it right the first time," and both
"zero-defect" and the right to make mistakes. These approaches
borrow the most seductive concepts and striking slogans from various
authors without concern for the coherence of the resulting message. To
be sure, some have attempted to reconceptualize these expressions with a
view toward eliminating contradiction. However, the often complicated
definitions that ensue do not necessarily clarify matters for the
average worker. It is sometimes forgotten that the meaning given to
words is as much a function of those using them as those defining them.
For example, in everyday language it is quite natural to associate the
word "total" with the idea of absolute or perfection, and the
nuances developed by theorists change nothing.
It is possible that the existence of several definitions could be
advantageous if the concept can be adapted to the particular situations
of those using it (Garvin, 1984; Reeves and Bednar, 1994). However, when
talking about quality, it is necessary to take the time to define
one's terms precisely before beginning an in-depth discussion.
Moreover, divergences must be acknowledged. Finally, even though some
may contend that this change in the vocabulary is the result of natural
evolution (for instance, replacing "control" with
"management" because of the former's negative connotation
and subsequently eliminating "management" to avoid the
impression that TQM was a program limited to management), we believe
that the new wording is indicative of a more fundamental conceptual
Another paradox emerges from the juxtaposition of rational and
normative schools of thought. Rhetoric from the rational school purports
that TQM is founded on the desire for scientific rigor (management by
facts) and relies heavily on formal systems and technical tools.
Rhetoric from the normative school purports that its very justification
and the context in which it is implemented is the struggle for survival
waged by organizations in a global market, but in this case TQM is
articulated by a moral, religious vocabulary(5) (Steingard and
Fitzgibbons, 1995; Webb, 1995). The "quality crusader" must
"have faith," but its actions must be based on objective
More importantly, the discourse surrounding quality has shifted
considerably over the years (for examples, see Table 3). The concept of
quality management has been broadened to such an extent that it is now a
synonym for "sound management" (Table 3, Column 1). The
economic argument evolved from a rhetoric of reducing costs as a means
of justifying improvements in product quality to a rhetoric of improving
quality in order to justify reducing costs (Column 2). The discourse
shifted from the need for everyone w be involved in the improvement of
product quality to everyone becoming a "quality person"
(Column 3). To better understand these shifts and their interrelations,
we present an historical perspective and contextualize the prescriptions
of those currently referred to as quality "gurus."
Originally, quality management had nothing to do with a search for
"total quality." Rather, it was a more prosaic response to the
need to offer products and services, the characteristics and attributes
of which corresponded to what customers had been promised. This was the
underlying principle for Shewhart, Deming, Juran, and Feigenbaum, who
considered deficiencies in management systems as merely a hindrance to
product quality, and company-wide quality as only a means to improving
product quality. In Feingenbaum's TQC, "control" is
total, not quality.(6) TQC's objective is to secure the
participation of all company functions in improving the quality of
products and services offered to customers. Indeed, the Japanese
ideograms for the TQC concept literally signify "quality
together" (Aubert and de Gaulejac, 1991). With Deming, the tendency
is to retain only his 14 points, which [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 3
OMITTED] when taken out of context, appear as prescriptions for sound
management. However, the idea behind the development of these management
concepts was the improvement of product quality. If "drive out
fear" (point 8) or "eliminate numerical quotas" (point
11) were deemed necessary, it was because fear led employees to
camouflage defects and because production quotas emphasized production
quantity to the detriment of quality.
In the early work on quality management, cost reduction was the
argument used by specialists in this field to convince managers to adopt
the tools and methods they were proposing. In effect, managers at the
time thought improving product quality would entail high costs, and it
was necessary to convince them that the costs of poor quality were
greater than the required investments. The objective of Deming, Juran,
and other pioneers of quality management was the improvement of product
quality. The possibility of reducing production costs by reducing
rejects and reworking due to poor quality was an incentive, a happy
consequence, or almost a bonus that occurred in concert with improvement
In the 1980s, however, TQM became a "product" to be sold,
borne by the popularity of the concepts of competitiveness and
excellence. In order for TQM to be even more attractive to the company
heads for whom it was intended, market share and profitability were
emphasized. The concept of quality was thus broadened to "to do a
quality job," which was associated not only with the reduction of
error, but also with the efficiency of work methods and the reduction of
waste due to bureaucracy. All company services had to improve the
quality of their work not only for production personnel to turn out
better products, but (first and foremost) to improve the entire
company's productivity and competitiveness. As such, TQM became the
symbol of sound management, as illustrated by the following: "total
quality is simply, and somewhat astonishingly, not really about quality
at all! . . . [It's about improved organizational
Performance]" (Schaffer, 1993: 19). Far from being superficial,
this redefinition of the concept of quality constitutes a complete
reversal of the situation. Initially, advocates of quality management
employed a rhetoric of cost reduction to persuade business leaders to
invest financial resources in quality management. Now, business leaders
(often led by consultants) employ a rhetoric of quality to enlist
employees and executives in a program of change. The primary objective
of the program is to improve the company's competitive position,
not only with respect to its customers, but to its shareholders as well.
One can observe a transition from the management of quality to the
quality of management (Brocka and Brocka, 1992, Feigenbaum, 1997), and,
finally, to management by quality.
These shifts in the discourse surrounding quality have important
consequences. First, they permit a better understanding of the
ideological critique. This critique accuses TQM of using a virtuous
discourse of improving quality to exploit workers for the benefit of
capital (even though it is understood that this is more a question of
following passing fads and the manifestation of management's desire
for miraculous solutions than the result of a Machiavellian maneuver).
Second, if TQM is the equivalent of sound management, then it reduces
good management to a set of prescriptions. Hence, the theoretical
critique is even more justified in reproaching the TQM discourse for not
grounding itself in management research and neglecting the social
dimension. This also makes TQM an incredibly ambitious project - all the
more so, given that the emphasis is on the word "total." This
might explain the low success rate of the TQM projects surveyed by the
Above all, we believe that these shifts are a hindrance to quality
management. By disguising the elimination of waste as efforts to improve
quality, quality management is tainted by deceptive maneuvers for which
it is not responsible. TQM is thus vulnerable to being discredited. One
might wonder whether in trying to achieve "total" quality,
"plain" quality is neglected. "Plain" quality refers
to the simple quality of the product or service which corresponds to the
legitimate expectations of the purchaser and should fulfill the
producer's promises. In effect, the TQM concept is now charged with
so many different meanings that the place of quality in itself is being
increasingly reduced. For example, in a recent trade show on the
implementation of quality at which representatives of various companies
gave the results of their quality improvement programs, a good
proportion of exhibitors showed what were in fact programs for the
elimination of waste (reduction of set-up time, optimization of a
production line, reduction of material loss in pattern cut-outs, etc.).
Our intention is not to minimize these efforts, but to point out that,
while quality management and efficiency management are both important
and can often overlap and help one another, they nonetheless remain two
distinct elements of organizational management.
We believe that talking in terms of simple quality has the advantage
of taking us back to the very concrete and, ultimately, relatively
humble origin of quality management. Such an approach might not appear
very ambitious to advocates of excellence, but we think that the simple
quality of products and services already is in itself a very important
objective and that the means to attaining it are very complex. To speak
in terms of simple quality is also to reframe quality management within
organizational constraints and environmental contingencies and to remove
it from the hands of an evangelical and universalist discourse which
leaves little room for discussion and real participation. We should add,
however, that we are not suggesting that simple quality is
"purer" than total quality, nor that it is free of all value
or ideology. Its ideological charge is no greater than that of any other
dimension of management in a market economy and capitalist society. To
speak in terms of simple quality would not in our view constitute a step
back or a rejection of efficiency, but rather a re,emphasis of the hard
reality of the arbitration sometimes needed between opposed interests
IMPLICATIONS FOR MANAGERS AND FURTHER RESEARCH
In this article, we have demonstrated that the field of quality
management is not always as homogenous and unified as some are led to
believe. On the contrary, it is comprised of distinct schools of
thought. Our classification is a preliminary proposal which could (and
should) be supplemented by further scientific analysis. We believe that
although classifications are always imperfect and subjective, they
provide managers with useful criteria to characterize and comprehend the
many quality management programs available.
We also believe that the labels "rational" and
"normative," as borrowed from Barley and Kunda (1992), may be
useful in several respects. They call attention to the possibility of
internal contradictions in cases where the program in question proposes
an orientation that seems to be both rational and normative. In
addition, they evoke the fact that different quality management
approaches may be based on quite different assumptions about the nature
of human actors and their attitude toward work. Therefore, before
selecting a particular program, it might be worthwhile to consider
whether or not the assumptions on which the program is based correspond
to one's own beliefs and to the organizational reality. Finally,
these concepts remind us that quality management is also a form of
control, anchored in rhetoric, and is not free of ideological content.
As such, quality management cannot be idealized as being above other
organizational contingencies, conflicting interests, and political
struggles. We believe that these aspects of our classification may help
managers. recognize the pitfalls they may encounter when they implement
quality management approaches.
The framework can be a valuable tool and foster further research in
the area. For example, Barley and Kunda (1992) identify several
orientations (tenors) that prevailed within the successive normative and
rational waves. Similarly, it might be possible to identify subgroups
within the two schools that would display some distinct characteristics.
Moreover, the proposed framework could help researchers and managers
examine quality management or TQM implementations' successes and
failures in terms of the chosen approach, whether rational or normative,
thus avoiding sterile debate about "true" TQM approaches. Does
one approach guarantee better chances of success or is it preferable to
refer to best-fit approaches? That is, depending on some organizational
characteristics (type of structure, leadership style, size, etc.), one
approach could potentially increase the chances of success.
We are convinced that the discourse surrounding quality has shifted
considerably over the years. Moreover, we have provided evidence that
substantiates the existence of such "shifts." However, much
work remains to be done. For instance, argument analysis or other forms
of content analysis could strengthen the evidence in favor of our
proposition. With the theoretical analysis presented here, we sought to
show how the evolution of the discourse surrounding quality allows for a
better understanding of some of the criticism levelled at it. We hope
that this fosters a climate of exchange for proponents and opponents of
TQM. We firmly believe that it is not by rejecting criticism or by
responding with truisms and equivocation that the cause of quality will
be advanced. We believe that criticism should be encouraged, analyzed
and classified to better organize ongoing discourse.
Our intention was to highlight the risks inherent in diluting the
concept of quality within a discourse that is both too encompassing in
its grasp and overly reductive in its applications. We wanted to reduce
the frustration that managers and employees have when confronted by TQM
so as to reduce the chances that they will dismiss it as yet another
management fad. On the one hand, we believe that what happened to the
discourse surrounding quality management may reflect a more general
process: the discursive creation of a "miracle cure." If this
is the case, managers should watch for the warning signs of this
phenomenon when they try to select a new management approach. On the
other hand, a better understanding of the historical reasons and of the
discursive processes which have led to the misappropriation of the
concept of quality may prevent managers from becoming discouraged by the
failures of so many TQM programs.
* The authors wish to thank the editor and the anonymous reviewers
for their useful comments, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales
de Montreal and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
Canada for their financial support.
1 For example, "Drive out fear" (point no. 8), "End
the practice of awarding business on price tag alone" (point no.
4), "Eliminate numerical quotas" (point no. 11), and
"Remove barriers to pride of workmanship" (point no. 12)
(Walton, 1986). It should be noted that while Deming's method has
become the cornerstone of many quality management approaches, it did not
always consist of 14 points. Several were added specifically for the
North American setting when Deming returned to the United States after
his stay in Japan.
2 In his first article presenting the TQC concept, Feigenbaum speaks
of a total/quality view, but this expression has nothing to do with what
is now called "total quality." A close reading also reveals
that it is indeed control, not quality, that is total (Feigenbaum,
3 However, it should be noted that Feigenbaum himself (author of
Total Quality Control) has spoken in terms of total quality over the
past few years. He is one of the only representatives of the rational
school to do so.
4 For obvious reasons, sources cannot be cited. These comments were
made by workers, technicians, clerical staff and middle managers of
numerous companies engaged in TQM.
5 For example: "The implied managerial identity is that of a
messiah, with talk of the "crusade for quality": "the
pursuit of the goal of perfection in TQ has a monkish ring to it. The .
. . conversion to TQ . . . is both personal and public.... There is also
an element of personal witness" (Bank, 1992: 47). "No doubt
vows of poverty and chastity will follow shortly!" (Webb, 1995:
6 In 1961, Feigenbaum also wrote: "In the phrase 'quality
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